U.S. Department of Education grants $245 million for charter school expansion

The United States Department of Education announced yesterday the awarding of $245 million in fiscal year 2016 toward the expansion and startup of charter schools across the country through its Charter Schools Program.

The grants total $177 million to eight states through their state education agencies.  Unfortunately, not on the list is Washington, D.C.  There are also monetary awards to 15 high performing charter management organizations.  Included in this group are some that operate here in the nation’s capital such as Democracy Prep PCS and KIPP PCS.  Also receiving a grant is the Denver School of Science and Technology that I visited this past summer.  The total amount provided in this category will be $67,683.

In a direct refutation of the National Associated for the Advancement of Colored People’s call for a moratorium on additional charters, U.S. Secretary of Education John King commented about the awards that “Innovative charter schools are continuously developing new and impactful practices to close achievement gaps and provide all students with the skills and abilities they need to thrive.  We are proud to support these efforts along with strong charter school authorizing and accountability, particularly given these grantees’ commitment to communities facing steep academic challenges.”

The press release announcing the grants details that since 1995 the CSP program has provided over $3 billion to charter school management organizations and the states.  The funds have resulted in the addition of over 2,500 charter schools enrolling approximately 1 million students.

The CMO grants are targeted toward those bodies that serve low income students.  It is estimated that 180 new or expanded charters will result from this investment.

The dollars are dependent upon Congressional authorization.

Over 160 Black education leaders call for NAACP to revise resolution calling for charter school restrictions

In a letter to members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People coordinated by the Black Alliance for Educational Options and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools over 160 Black education leaders in this country call for the NAACP to reconsider its resolution calling for a moratorium on the growth of charter schools.

There are numerous prominent signers to this campaign, including many from the nation’s capital.  These include Peter Anderson, head of school Washington Latin PCS; Patricia Brantley, CEO Friendship PCS; Dr. Marco Clark, CEO Richard Wright PCS; Diane Cottman, executive director Latin American Montessori Bilingual PCS; Jami Dunham, CEO Paul PCS; Dr. Ramona Edelin, executive director D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools; Donald Hense, chairman and founder Friendship PCS; Brian Jones, chair National Alliance for Public Charter School and D.C. Prep board member; Linda Moore, founder and senior advisor Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community PCS; Cassandra Pinkney, founder and executive director Eagle Academy PCS; Dr. Joe Smith, COO and CFO Eagle Academy PCS; Deborah Dantzler Williams, head of school Inspired Teaching Demonstration PCS; and Shantelle Wright, CEO Achievement Prep PCS.

I especially appreciate the comment made by Cheryl Brown Henderson, founding president and CEO, Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research; and the daughter of Oliver Brown, plaintiff in Brown v. Board of Education:

“Over 60 years ago my father joined with numerous parents to stand with the NAACP and fight for all African American students stuck in a separate, broken education system. Brown v. Board of Education created better public education options for African American students, and made it the law of the land that neither skin color, socioeconomic status, nor geography should determine the quality of education a child receives. I am eternally grateful to the NAACP for their leadership on this case and for giving African American families the opportunity to send their children to the best schools that would help them to succeed. But I am troubled that in 2016, the NAACP would oppose placing better educational choices in the hands of families across the country. Charter public schools present African American families, especially those in low-income communities, with the choice to choose a public option that is best for their child. We must protect this choice.”

The press release announcing the letter directly asserts that Black children are the beneficiaries of having the option of enrolling in charters.  “According to the most thorough and respected study of charter school results, conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, Black students learn more when they attend charter schools.  Black students in charter schools gained the equivalent of 14 extra days of learning in reading and 14 extra days of learning in math per year compared with their Black peers in traditional district schools.  For low-income Black students attending charter schools, the learning gains were even more dramatic-the equivalent of 29 extra learning days in reading and 36 extra learning days in math.”

In fact, Black families are voting for charter schools with their feet.  The letter states that “Black students now account for 27 percent of charter school enrollment, versus just 16 percent of traditional school enrollment.”

The signatories are requesting a conference with NAACP board representatives prior to their fall board meeting.

 

 

Are we seeing the beginning of the end of D.C.’s charter school movement?

In what is described as an exit interview by Alexander Russo of Edupulse DCPS Chancellor has some exceptionally interesting comments about charters in the nation’s capital.  Here are her remarks:

“What we have in D.C. is two systems that are pretty similar to each other. Both have a handful of schools that are doing tremendously and a few that are struggling mightily—and a bunch of schools in the messy middle…We’re paying twice as much for not very different outcomes. I think that it’s not a good use of resources. We have experienced positive financial revenue in the city for the past 10 years, but if we were like a lot of other places, there’s no way that we would pay as much as we’re paying to support two different systems that are providing the same results.

The systems should be complementary. Let’s figure out what the district does well and doesn’t do well, and the same for charters. We’re stepping on each other’s toes.”

In a sense, Ms. Henderson is correct.  If you look at the most recent PARCC standardized test results the findings between the two sectors look remarkably similar.  For example, in English charters score three points higher than the traditional schools at 28.5 percent proficient versus 25.5 percent.  In math the story is basically the same with charters at 26.4 percent of those earning a four or five and with DCPS at 23.9 percent on the same scale.

However, perhaps charters are not providing the entire picture.  Because for economically disadvantaged students, those that charters were created to help, there is a significant difference in results between these schools and the regular ones.  Here, charters are at 23 percent of students at grade level and DCPS is at 14.6 percent, a variance of 8.4 points.  Essentially the same difference is present when it comes to math scores.

Perhaps there is little excitement over these numbers because less than a quarter of kids being where they are supposed to be is nothing to jump up and down about.  Still, many charters, such as DC Prep, KIPP, and several of the language immersion schools, posted impressive results.

Therefore, as I’ve argued many times before, in order to increase support for charters we need to be rapidly expanding those that are doing well and eliminating those at the bottom of the academic scale.  Only by replication of high performing schools will we close the case that these alternative schools desperately need to be around today and for hundreds of years from now.

 

Brian Jones to be honored with Outstanding Service Award

At tonight’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board past chairman Brian Jones will receive the organization’s Outstanding Service Award.  The recognition is extremely well deserved.

Mr. Jones was PCSB chair from 2010 to 2013.  During his tenure the charter school authorizer doubled down on its emerging emphasis on the quality of schools following the nascent movement’s logical focus on growth.  He followed the strong leadership of Tom Nida, and while Mr. Jones did not have the same commanding presence as his predecessor from the podium, he led solidly and consistently through his calm and respectful manner no matter who it was with whom he was interacting.

I had the tremendous pleasure of interviewing Mr. Jones three times.  On each occasion he treated me with the same dignity that he did everyone else.  He never made me feel one of my questions was not worth asking, and he taught me way too much to mention here about the eruption of public school reform then taking place in the nation’s capital.

It was a time of great transition for the PCSB.  Its first board chair and long-term executive director Josephine Baker retired and Mr. Jones was responsible for bringing the highly esteemed and successful Scott Pearson to that role.  The board also hired its first general counsel.  The Performance Management Framework was only just being fully implemented.  In addition, Mr. Jones expertly navigated Mayor Gray’s Neighborhood Preference Task Force to conclusions that maintained the autonomy of charter schools.

But it is the interpersonal skills of Mr. Jones that I remember most.  No matter whether he agreed with you or not, Mr. Jones would listen and be sincerely grateful for the information.  It is a trait that many of us only wish we could emulate.

 

 

 

Washington Leadership Academy PCS wins $10 million grant

Yesterday it was announced that Washington Leadership Academy Public Charter School won an astonishing $10 million grant from XQ: The Super School Project to reinvent the American high school model.  Washington Leadership had already won one of the CityBridge Foundaton’s Breakthrough Schools awards to create new revolutionary methods for delivering education.

As Mieka Wick, CityBridge’s executive director explained in a press release, in September 2015 XQ announced that that it would be awarding 10 grants of $10 million each to schools.  Interestingly, another Breakthrough School, Monument Academy PCS, made it to the semifinal round for the XQ prize.

The Washington Post’s Emma Brown expertly captures the excitement of what Washington Leadership Academy is trying to achieve:

“The academy, which opened its doors for the first time last month, combines online, project-based and service learning with new and emerging technologies such as virtual reality. Someday, the school would like to work with holographic teaching — which could allow a person in Arizona to show up, via hologram, in a classroom in Alaska — and it is putting its plans and operations online for anyone to copy. Eventually, the school will post its lessons, too.”

Washington Leadership was co-founded by Seth Andrews, who created the highly regarded Democracy Prep charter schools, one of which now operates in the District.

XQ:  The Super School Project is the brainchild of Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs.  Ms. Brown indicated that half of the winners are charters and the other half are traditional schools.  She goes on to reveal that the selection of winning schools was made by 42 judges that included education reformers plus other individuals with a wide variety of talents and expertise including the musician MC Hammer.

These are not the only funds that this organization will distribute.  The group was so enthusiastic about some of the proposals that did not receive grand prizes that it will provide financial resources and other support in the future to those that rose near the top.

The Washington Post story goes on to state that 700 teams composed of almost 10,000 people applied for the grants.  The original idea was to give out five $10 million awards but the number was doubled due to the outpouring of interest.

Congratulations to Washington Leadership Academy PCS.

 

Richard Whitmire misses the point when it comes to charter and DCPS cooperation

Last weekend Richard Whitmire, an author and senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation, wrote a piece in the Washington Post in which he listed the 10 reasons that charters and traditional schools in the nation’s capital seem to get along compared to the situations regarding public school choice in places like Los Angeles and Boston.  Please allow me to save you time by informing you that you need not bother to read his contributing factors to peace between the two sectors.  I’ll tell you exactly what is going on here.  Charters have given up.

DCPS for years has been erecting glass enclosed monuments to underutilized classrooms through its school modernization program.  Meanwhile, charters scramble for permanent facilities, seemingly joyful when rarely handed a dilapidated shuttered regular school that needs millions of dollars of renovation work in money that must be coerced from a bank.  Heaven forbid that the new site is anywhere near a traditional school.  Then charters are accused of cannibalizing children. If there is traffic around the site, which there always is, the neighbors must somehow be placated with assurances that a structure filled with children and adults will bring no additional congestion to the area.

Charters do what they do while hiring their own staff, buying their own textbooks, managing their own buildings, and cleaning up after the kids leave for the day.  For this privilege they are provided with about a million less per year in revenue compared to DCPS.  There is a FOCUS coordinated lawsuit in the courts around this issue.  Have you heard it mentioned in the last couple of years?  Not one word from our political leaders.

Recent PARCC scores show that about 25 percent of our children are ready for college.  At the same time, most rational people attribute the improvement of our public schools to the introduction of competition enjoined through the charter movement.  But is there a call to place reform in high gear by bringing more national charter management organizations to town to finally close the academic achievement gap?  Nope.  The Public Charter School Board and Deputy Mayor for Education feel that 44 percent of all kids in charters is just fine.  Perhaps they are uncomfortable that the number is even this great.

Today, the name of the game is collaboration.  But haven’t we been trying this for 20 years?  Charter heads of school must begin their day at 4 a.m. and continue to work until they drop, but are forbidden to talk at all about the indignity of not being treated as equal to their DCPS peers.  It as if they are being told that you dare not discuss facilities and funding.  Just do your job, act fortunate that you are able to operate at all, and stand by as we tell you how you will help the traditional schools perform at your level.

It is just one happy family out there.

 

 

FOCUS analysis of PARCC scores show charter school progress

For years I’ve enjoyed the data analysis performed by FOCUS after the annual release of D.C. public schools’ standardized test scores.  2016 is no different in that the organization’s review of PARCC results demonstrates that charters are outperforming DCPS in almost every grade level in English and math.  The overall variation for students attending charters versus DCPS for ratings of 4 and 5, in other words kids that were found to be at grade level and on the way to college readiness, was 4 points in reading and 2.5 points in math.

While these statistics are not impressive the difference becomes much greater when you examine subgroups of pupils in the third grade, a key time in a kid’s education.  The indicator that I immediately go to is the one for low-income children.  Here, charters outperform the traditional schools 25 percent to 14 percent in reading and 38 percent to 24 percent in math.

Still, these numbers are so low.  In addition, if you examine the overall results for students living in poverty you will see that the combined average receiving a 4 or 5 for charters is 23 percent compared to the DCPS percentage of 14.6.  This is a difference of 8.4 points.

The one number that does get me excited from the FOCUS review is the number of kids scoring in the college readiness range for those living in Wards 7 and 8.  Here charters have 1,114 pupils in this category in English versus 414 for DCPS.  In math the pattern is the same with 1,189 students in charter schools scoring a 4 or 5 while in DCPS the number is 486.

Perhaps there is some room for optimism.

Exclusive Interview with Patricia Brantley, CEO Friendship Public Charter School

I had the distinct pleasure recently of sitting down for an interview with Patricia A. Brantley, the new chief executive officer of Friendship Public Charter School.  Ms. Brantley has been in her new position for about eight weeks.  My first question for her was why she thought she had been selected by her board of directors to replace Donald Hense.  She answered without hesitation.

“A group of Friendship student reporters asked me the same question,” she replied.  “I first met Donald 23 years ago.  At the time I was working for Dorothy I. Height as the head of domestic programs and development for the National Council of Negro Women.  Donald was at the Children’s Defense Fund under Marian Wright Edelman.  She put Donald on loan to the Council for the purpose of helping with the development of strategy and to help bring the organization to the next phase.  We had obtained a new huge building at 633 Pennsylvania Avenue and we were ready to organize around a future direction.  Donald had joined the board of the Friendship House, which had been struggling to define itself.  He was then invited to become their CEO.  I joined him at Friendship House as program director and director of development. “

Ms. Brantley explained that Friendship House started as a settlement house.  Settlement houses allowed middle-class settlement workers to improve the lives of the poor.  They provided services such as housing, healthcare, daycare, and education beginning as early as the 1880s in England and the United States.  Their goal, according to Ms. Brantley, was the development of high-quality schools, housing, jobs, and a good community.  At the Friendship House, Mr. Hense and Ms. Brantley noticed that when parents sent their eager, bright toddlers to school, their love of learning and confidence was not the same when they returned.  This is when Donald decided to open his own charter school.

Ms. Brantley returned to the National Council to assist with the upgraded headquarters.  But it was the education of children that she had come to realize would be the focus of her life.  She could hear the words of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, who founded the National Council in New York before its eventual move to D.C.  Dr. Bethune would say throughout her life, “I leave you a thirst for education. Knowledge is the prime need of the hour.”

Her drive to provide better educational opportunities to children led her back to Friendship PCS after being executive director of the Dance Institute of Washington for a year.  She arrived when the school was approximately three years old.

Her accomplishments during her dozen years at the charter school as chief operating officer include transforming Collegiate Academy to create a school with college-level courses.  She arrived in September and by January she had brought Advanced Placement and pre-Advanced Placement courses to the campus.   She led the development of teacher quality initiatives that includes Fellows, Professors, and Master teachers.  Ms. Brantley also supports the development of school leaders by encouraging their attendance at Relay, a leadership training program.  During her tenure, she expanded Friendship to include Southeast Academy, Technology Prep, Friendship Online, and Armstrong campuses.  The school’s press release announcing her appointment had this to say about her work:

“As COO, she engineered the acquisition and development of six schools in Washington, D.C., four partner schools in Baltimore, Maryland, and a new charter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  She oversaw all school operations, secured more that $96 million in public and private funding, instituted management policies that aligned the network’s campuses, and established the Friendship Teaching Institute as a model of professional development.  Ms. Brantley also launched the independent Friendship Education Foundation to take the charter network’s academic model across the nation.  And she led the development of FPCS’ high school model, which yields one of the District’s highest graduation and college acceptance rates, a record that outpaces the national average and continues to grow.”

Ms. Brantley reflected that all of Friendship PCS’s accomplishments are due to the singular mission of putting the child first.

I then asked Ms. Brantley about her own goals for the charter school.

“Donald gave up his baby,” the Friendship CEO replied.  “He wants it to continue to grow.  This is a different time for our school.  We are not building a foundation.  We are focused on advocacy and providing rigorous academic opportunities.  We are particularly interested in fair funding for at-risk students.  We agree with Norm Johnson, formerly of IDEA PCS, and Barbara Nophlin, past Paul PCS head of school, who both helped design the DC Public Charter School Board’s original Performance Management Framework, that student academic growth over time should be the most important measure of a school’s educational achievement.”

Ms. Brantley continued, “We are extremely motivated in developing ethical literate learners who meet high academic expectations.  We want to increase the number of students prepared to complete college and pursue meaningful careers.  We strive to teach our scholars to be resilient, self-advocates with a passion for gaining knowledge.  We are introducing new rigorous curriculum across content areas and grades.

The Friendship CEO then began talking philosophically.

“We have many conversations at Friendship about values.  We strive to develop our students to be empathetic and also aware of their right to a good education, even when many have not been born into privilege.”

Ms. Brantley, too, was not raised in an environment of privilege.  She was born in Newark, New Jersey, becoming the first member of her high school to attend Princeton University.  She majored in economics.

Lastly, I wanted to understand from Ms. Brantley how it felt to succeed Donald Hense.

“I miss him every day,” the Friendship CEO shared.  “He always says directly what is on his mind.  He is a social worker at heart.  He believes in the kids he is serving.  Just as we expect so much from our students, Donald does not apologize for having us work 100 hours a week. He also allows for an individual vision within the overall goals of Friendship.  He inspires relentless effort, all in the service of children.”

It appeared clear to me after meeting Ms. Brantley that Friendship PCS is definitely in excellent hands.

 

Dismal D.C. public school standardized test scores with some bright spots

Yesterday, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education released the results of D.C. public school’s second year of PARCC standardized test results.  There is special significance for these scores in 2016 since, after a 12-month hiatus, charters will now once again be tiered utilizing the Performance Management Framework and DCPS staff will be evaluated on these results as part of their IMPACT system.

So here we go.  For elementary schools, and we will focus on these findings since students are tested in grades three through eight and only once in high school, the overall proficiency rate for those prepared for college and ready to go on to the next grade, meaning those that rated a four or five on the exam, in English Language Arts is 27 percent.  For math the number is 25 percent.  If you are interested as I am in the achievement gap between white kids and those that are economically disadvantaged the variance is about 55 percent, which while huge, believe it or not, is a decrease from 2015.  Charters posted about a two percent overall increase in reading and math compared to DCPS, but please keep in mind that these schools serve a greater proportion of low-income students and fewer white pupils compared to the regular schools.

The numbers have gone up a couple of points from last year for almost all categories of students.   The only real drop in the proficiency rate was for white students in English of 4.8 percent, which the Washington Post’s Perry Stein explains is attributable to a substantial decline at Wilson High School.  Students there had a proficiency rate of 50 percent last year which went to 21 percent in 2016.  The reason for the change is unknown.  However, white charter school students also experienced a substantial decline in English.

Now for some positives.  Many charters scored above the state average.  There are too many to mention specifically so I’ve included the list here.  I’m especially impressed with some of the DC Prep and KIPP DC campuses, as well as numerous language immersion schools.  For example, DC Prep at Edgewood Street is at 56 percent proficient in English and 69 percent in math, while Washington Yu Ying is at 51 percent and 59 percent proficiency for English and math, respectively.

In addition, many charters saw strong growth from last year.  Here again KIPP DC dominates this category but there are also many Friendship PCS campuses singled out.  For example, Friendship’s Chamberlain Elementary School experienced an 18 percent increase in English and a 15 percent jump in math.

For DCPS, the School Without Walls and Benjamin Banneker High School, both student application schools, had the highest results.  But the traditional schools also showed some impressive gains, with 29 posting upticks in both reading and math.  For example, Beers Elementary School went up 11.9 percent in English and 9.5 percent in math, and School-Within-School Elementary saw English results increase 19.7 percent and math improve by 6.9 percent.

Still,there’s an extremely far way to go and many of these scores point to the fact that reform really needs to move into high gear.  If the theme of the week is collaboration between the two sectors, let’s find out what the schools that did well are doing and copy it.  Immediately.

 

 

 

D.C. charters and DCPS: collaboration but not capitulation

Yesterday, American University Radio WAMU and National Public Radio ran a story by Martin Austermuhle entitled  “After 20 Years, Are Charters and DCPS Learning To Get Along?” about the first two decades of charter schools operating in Washington, D.C.  In the piece, in which I’m quoted, the Deputy Mayor for Education Jennie Niles comes to this conclusion:

“We have a very unique situation here in D.C., with 55 percent of our students attending DCPS, 45 percent attending public charter schools. And competition has gotten us this far, but going forward what’s going to get us [further] is the collaboration.”

She is absolutely right.  I returned a few weeks ago from the Amplify School Choice conference in Denver hosted by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity totally convinced that here in the nation’s capital we desperately need our version of this city’s District-Charter Collaboration Compact.  But before we link hands and commit to all getting along for the benefit of the children, we need to consider the details of what would be contained in such a contract.

First and foremost, charters would have to be guaranteed access to permanent facilities.  Ms. Niles formed her DC Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force, but she started with the pronouncement that a discussion of buildings was off the table.  Well, physical space is only the biggest challenge a charter faces, and securing it is a tremendous distraction to the school’s focus on academics.  Having charter leaders expend all of their energy on this issue while helplessly watching the traditional schools spend hundreds of millions of dollars renovating their own classrooms only adds painful insult to injury.

Next, there has to be a solution to the funding inequity between the two sectors.  Whether the city wants to provide the same services to charters that it provides for free to DCPS like building maintenance, lawyers, and information technology, or simply augment the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula to account for these expenses as recommended in the Adequacy Study is up to the Mayor.  But something desperately needs to be done so that the FOCUS-engineered lawsuit over this matter can be brought to a rightful conclusion.

Once these major issues are resolved then I honestly believe the sky is the limit for charter and DCPS cooperation.  There can be sharing of real estate, programs, professional development, feeder patterns, and yes, even planning around where new charters should or should not be located.  But before we can get to this point, and just like when we were in school, we have to take care of the fundamentals first.